If you were at SOFII’s ‘I wish I thought of that’ event earlier this year, you might recognise this:
It was for sale (or rather had just sold) on a nostalgia website.
It seemed amazing to me that an appeal – something so intrinsically disposable – had survived 70+ years and was now prized as a possession, so much so that someone paid money for it. (I'd have bought it myself is someone hadn't got there first).
If you had told me then that something similar would happen to an appeal I had worked on, I don’t think I’d have believed you, but here’s the evidence.
It’s certainly never happened to me before, at least to my knowledge, so I thought it would be interesting to share the story.
If you are involved in alumni fundraising, this is clearly relevant. But if you aren’t – if you work for a ‘regular’ charity – I would encourage you to read on because there might be things a ‘regular’ charity can learn from a university. This is a issue we began to debate over on the Fundraising Detective’s blog.
So first an explanation. Since it’s just you reading this, I’ll come clean – it turns out, after all these years, I can’t recognise a good brief when it’s staring me in the face. To my eternal shame, the UCL brief caused me to frown, ask ‘you want to do what?’ and generally feel rather puzzled for a number of days.
Thankfully, like many great briefs, it all started to make sense once we'd done some research and had a good idea. I still recognise what one of those looks like. It looks like this:
Presentation isn't everything, is it? This is a paper serviette that Mark used to scribble down how we could answer our brief to bring philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham back to life to raise money for UCL.
Bentham gave a donation to help establish UCL and his radical thinking inspires students to this day. His auto-icon (dressed skeleton) sits in the South Cloisters and there probably isn't a UCL student who hasn't paid him a visit. The day I went to pay my respects, there was a queue of Freshers waiting to have their photo taken with him.
Anyway, if you can read Mark’s writing (it's a special skill) you may notice it’s not such a long journey from the scribble on the serviette to this:
When we discovered that Jeremy's head had been stolen by students from a rival academic institution back in the 70s, our idea was complete. Inspired by having his head held ransom, Jeremy would carry out a kind of 'ransom in reverse', sending his head to alumni and asking for a donation in its place.
Like every good appeal, there was a strong 'need' element. The Government has withdrawn the majority of its funding for higher education and the rise in fees means there's an increased demand for scholarships. Jeremy Bentham took to modern technology with great enthusiasm to email and write to former students and ask for their support.
I think I’d call it one of the more unusual fundraising campaigns I’ve worked on. But it’s worked. After four weeks' response, it's UCL's most successful DM appeal yet . We've already recruited more new DM donors than last year and there's the reminder still to come. That also comes from Jeremy Bentham.
There's a further characteristic that the Great Ormond Street Hospital and Jeremy Bentham appeal have in common. They've both generated media coverage. Go back to the top of this post and you'll see a clipping from an Australian newspaper, telling the story of the piece of rubble that travelled around the world, raising money for the reconstruction of the hospital.
The Jeremy Bentham appeal got a write up in the New York Times and, better still, alumni took to Facebook and Twitter to show what they did with their Jeremy Bentham paper lantern.
Here are a few highlights.
So here's a few things this appeal reminds us of:
- CONNECTION: Hamish at UCL knows his audience. He realised that Jeremy Bentham would re-awaken alumni's memories of UCL and its tradition of radical thinking.
- NEED: Fundraising isn't just about showing need. There's lots of need. You also need to connect with your donor and maybe even delight them with what they receive.
- TEST: If you've got a brave idea, try testing it in a place where you can get some sense of the response. In this case, we offered Jeremy's head to alumni in a small spot on their magazine carrier sheet. We thought we might get a handful of responses and, if we didn't get any complaints, we'd have been pleased. We got over a thousand requests for a head.
- ENGAGE: When thinking about a signatory, don't limit yourself to the living (!)
- INSPIRE: Finding supporters can be like going fishing with a net. It's more rewarding to find a magnet and attract supporters to you. That's what Jeremy's head does.